UCF Police at Town Hall meeting: 'Help us help you'
UCF Police want to be friends, not foes.
That was the core message from Monday night's Town Hall meeting that Mr. UCF Dominique Harris hosted with UCF's Campus Activities Board. Students were encouraged to communicate any concerns or questions they had regarding campus and student safety with UCF Police and UCF Victim Services.
"[Harris] mentioned that some students fear cops more than criminals — [that] is something that we don't want, especially in this environment," Officer Joel Witherspoon said. "We're dealing with good kids, and that's just not the way to be."
About 30 students sat in the Cape Florida Ballroom eager to listen and willing to ask questions involving issues such as police body cameras, training to deal with sexual assault, racial profiling, gender stereotypes, police brutality and parking garage cameras.
"The students' interests need to come first," Deputy Chief Carl Metzger said. "And everything comes secondary to that."
Body cameras were a hot topic at the meeting, and one student asked if body cameras affected people's demeanor.
"The body cameras do alter behavior, but it's usually in a positive way," Metzger said. "If [someone] knows they're being recorded, typically their behavior improves."
Metzger said UCF PD encounters times when they turn off their body cameras because of their policy, such as interviewing a sex crime victim, when called to a medical emergency due to an alcohol-related incident involving students and when entering someone's home in certain situations due to Florida legislature.
"Just be courteous. The officers should be courteous to you. And if they're not, then the next day you come to us, and we will punish them," Metzger said. "And we have, now, the cameras to show whether they were doing the right thing or not."
The audience was also informed that police officers are not allowed to have an involvement with police body camera footage after they download it.
"They can't delete it, they can't alter it, they can't do anything to it," Metzer said. "There's only one thing they can do with it and that's download it."
The four officers in attendance emphasized that they're here to protect students, but they need help from Knights.
"We need your eyes; we need you to be able to give us a good description of what's going on," Officer Peter Stephens said.
Coretta Cotton, senior victim advocate with UCF Victims Services, said the phobia behind being scared of police is not something to worry about at UCF.
"The officers here really, really do care," said Cotton. "So we work with them hand-in-hand to make sure that we get you what you need."
Cotton stressed that Victim Services wants to help students, staff and faculty no matter what time of day or night, as help is only a call away, 24 hours a day.
"If bad things do happen, you have support on this campus — 100 percent," Cotton said.
One student asked, "What is the training process entering the police force when dealing with race?"
Metzger said the UCF Police recently went through training with Dr. Lorie Fridell from the University of South Florida's Criminology department, who is a national expert on profiling.
"We want our officers to be aware that they have [implicit bias]," Metzger said. He explained that implicit bias is every person's natural instinct to make a judgment about a person without even realizing it, due to his or her past and personal experiences.
Deputy Chief Brett Meade said UCF Police works to counteract that instinctual bias with trainings and by creating a diverse police force.
While campus safety isn't Harris' professional platform as Mr. UCF, he's made it his personal one.
Harris said he thought students were very engaged and asked the officers good questions. He plans on having another similar session later in the semester and wants to do one at Valencia, as well.
"I think we were able to clear up a lot of misconceptions," Metzger said.
Paige Wilson is a Digital Producer for the Central Florida Future. Follow her on Twitter at @ByPaigeWilson or email her at paigew@CentralFloridaFuture.com.